With questions in the infield – who might the Rays still be targeting?
Pitchers and catchers report to Charlotte Sports Park on Valentine’s Day this year with the first full squad workout set for February 19th. With all the moves and signings this off-season this Rays team seems to look a bit different heading into their 20th exhibition season. Different in more ways than just new faces. They’re healthy and look primed to be a much improved team following their last place finish in 2016.
However, there is still time for them to scoop up another new face or two via free agency or trades before they lace up for the first time in Port Charlotte. With the trade of Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers, a hole has now opened up at second base. Rumors have the Rays moving Brad Miller over to fill the role. He has 18 starts at second in his career so the move would not be completely foreign. However that would open up first base, a position the Rays have less options at in-house to fill. Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham would be the current in-house candidates to possibly platoon at second with prospect Daniel Robertson a possibility, as well.
Let’s say Miller moves over and the Rays are faced with needing a replacement at first base. Former Orioles catcher, Matt Wieters, seems to be the leading candidate on the Rays radar. He provides a very solid place-holder behind the plate until Wilson Ramos is healthy enough to take over catching duties and after that – could slide over and play first base where he has a bit of experience. Wieters, 30, is a four-time All Star and is coming off a 17 HR, 66 RBI season in Baltimore playing in 124 games. He also won two Gold Gloves behind the plate back in 2011 and 2012. Money seems to be the biggest hurdle for the Rays to bring in a guy like Wieters who made $15.8 million last season in Baltimore. The longer it takes for a team to sign him, the cheaper he’ll be and the more likely he’ll get snatched up by Tampa Bay.
Another option that the Rays have been attached to is first baseman, Chris Carter. Coming off a season in which he lead the NL in home runs with 41 (career-high) while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, he also led MLB in strikeouts for the second time in his career with 206 in 2016. Carter began his career in Oakland in 2010 but wasn’t a starter until he was with the Astros from 2013-2015. Then, last season, set career marks in HR and RBI with the Brewers despite a paltry .222 average. Aside from his strikeout issues, Carter does draw his share of walks. He was issued 76 free passes last season to help his .321 on-base percentage.
Mike Napoli may be a long-shot but he has been linked to the Rays over the last couple of weeks. He’s 35 and still in negotiations with the Texas Rangers to possibly head back there. Napoli was a huge part of the Cleveland Indians World Series run last year and would be a fantastic addition to a young Rays team both on the field and in the clubhouse. His 34 HR and 101 RBI were both career-highs for the first baseman and catcher in 2016.
A couple of names that have been thrown around recently that the Rays would have to acquire via trades are Rangers second baseman, Jurickson Profar, and possibly even Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett. Profar, who will turn just 24 this month, is controllable until 2020 and has another year before he’s arbitration-eligible. He’s never played in more than 90 games in parts of three seasons at the MLB level but has a lot of upside and is solid in the field. Gennett, like Profar, is controllable until 2020 but has much more MLB experience and has proven to be a threat with the bat. Last season in Milwaukee, he set a career-highs with 14 HR and 56 RBI in 136 games along with a .728 OPS.
I foresee one or possibly even two of these names coming to Tampa. None will likely have a high price tag and in the case of Profar or Gennett – the control is a very attractive asset to the Rays. Napoli is likely the long shot seeing as he would be the most expensive name and would likely want a multi-year deal as his career is in the final stretch. Carter’s power is so hard to ignore and he’s the most natural first base option of anyone on this list. Imagine him behind Longoria for 160 games. His strikeout issues, however, might be the more polarizing attribute and be enough to turn the Rays off to bringing him aboard.
Wieters, for my money, is the most likely option. The Rays are very familiar with him with all his time in the AL East in Baltimore and he will bring the most on and off the field for the lowest price tag.
Some information in this article is per Bill Chastain via raysbaseball.com